The public must be engaged and informed about the role and work of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj made this statement during a discussion Monday on the topic “Caribbean Court of Justice: Final Court of Appeal?”
Maharaj was part of the panel for the inaugural Wendell Kangalloo Memorial Discussion at the Hugh Wooding Law School, St Augustine which also included Dr Emir Crowne, Rosana John and Tony Fraser. Journalist/Express columnist Sunity Maharaj was moderator.
Maharaj (R) said the government had failed to properly inform the public which has attributed to misconceptions about the CCJ. “I don’t think that there is any dispute that the judges of the Caribbean are quite capable and competent to handle; so the question we have to answer and face as a people is whether there is public education programmes which the government must undertake to allow the public to have their say and get them involved in it. Sufficient public education on the pros and cons of CCJ is lacking,” Maharaj said.
Maharaj said the population does not have confidence in the CCJ. “I feel very strongly that the public should have a say in the change from the Privy Council to the CCJ. I think that some machinery should be found whereby we should be able to explain that what the CCJ means and what it stands for. The public believes that most of the politically sensitive matters are decided in favour of the population in the Privy Council; whether this is so or not this is a serious issue that we can solve with public education.
Maharaj said the cost of taking a case to the Privy Council as opposed to the CCJ is cheaper. He noted that junior lawyers are paid more than senior lawyers. “I have found that it is cheaper to take a case to the Privy Council than to have to do it at the high court or the court of appeal. In recent times legal fees have skyrocketed; even junior lawyers are paid more than senior lawyers. The state retained junior lawyers and they are being paid more than senior lawyers and that has an effect on mitigation. I have done free cases in the Privy Council and the lawyer fees in England are one- third of what it would cost in the high court,” Maharaj said.
ABOUT JUSTICE WENDELL KANGALOO
Justice Wendell Kangaloo passed away on July 19, 2013 at the age of 57.
At the time of his passing he was the most senior judge in the Court of Appeal in Trinidad and Tobago, having blazed an impressive trail in both his advocacy and judicial careers.
Kangaloo was admitted to practise law in Trinidad and Tobago on October 12, 1984.
As a practitioner, he earned a reputation of being a brilliant and fearless advocate, known as much for his wit and humour as for his devastating intellect.
It came as little surprise when at the tender age of 39, he was appointed to the judiciary on February 1, 1996. At the time of his appointment he was the youngest person in the history of Trinidad and Tobago to assume that office. He had given up an extremely successful legal career so as to dedicate himself to wider national service in the law.
As he had done in private practice, Kangaloo distinguished himself in the first instance as a judge, and became known for his careful, insightful and incisive judgements, as well as for his no-nonsense demeanour.
On December 11, 2001, a mere five years after his appointment to the Bench, he was elevated to the Court of Appeal, achieving yet another "first" in becoming the first graduate of Hugh Wooding Law School to become a member of the Court of Appeal.
A man of many "firsts" Kangaloo was the first Chairman of the Judicial Education Institute - a body that began its operations in 2003, providing training and educational programmes for judicial officers, court administrators and support staff. Kangaloo was also a fellow of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute.
Kangaloo's passion for the law extended to his committed and enthusiastic support of programmes designed to promote excellence in advocacy.
At the Law School, he was a major figure in the annual Hamel-Smith Appellate Court Mooting Competition, where, if not fondly, he will at least forever be remembered for having both chided and guided the competition's participants for many years, in their quest for excellence in advocacy. Kangaloo loved young people and gave to young attorneys generously of this time and energy.
In recognition of his sterling contribution in the field of law, Kangaloo was posthumously awarded the Chaconia Medal Gold in 2013.